Sexual assault survivors or the otherwise sensitive may find the themes of this post upsetting.
As usual, I am behind on the big American news, and I first read the name "Brock Turner" in the text of the survivor's victim impact statement. You may not want to read it if you are yourself a victim of sexual assault or humiliation. The small mercy is that she does not actually remember the original assault, a fact which was certainly used against her on the stand.
This was a very well written victim impact statement. It's difficult to write well about such things, but she did it. She grabbed my attention from the moment of her confused panic about her underwear might be. She didn't yet know, as her finders knew, that she had been found half-naked and exposed on top of pine cones behind a dumpster. Her attacker ran off when he was surprised in the assault by two Swedish graduate students, one of whom cried from the shock of what he had seen.
I have not yet read "the other side of the story", which I realize must be full of colour and dash because it will be about an American college athlete. One of the sharp contrasts between Canadian and American society is that in the USA college athletes are a Big Deal.
American college athletes are not only a big deal because Americans are so interested in sports--Canadians are also interested in sports--but because the success of college athletes attracts money to their colleges, by way of ticket sales and alumni donations. (The vast majority of Canadian universities are publicly funded; there is no social hierarchy among universities, there is no "Harvard of the North.") The fancy buildings, the groomed grounds, the fellowships for theology students are financed from the bodies of teenage to twenty-something boys. Therefore these boys get special treatment, and if they commit a crime (or are accused of a crime), they are deemed newsworthy. They are no longer mere thugs or victims: they are the heroes or villains of Greek tragedies.
What kills me is the dumpster. The meaning of what happened to the survivor is probably different for different kinds of women. Certainly my horror and fear of things like this were different when I was a 24 year old virgin from my horror and fear now. This, of course, has nothing to do with the criminality of the crime. It is a serious crime to have sex with (or shove things into) a woman too incapable to consent, and that's all that really needs to be said regarding a man's point of view. But from the point of view of a sexually active woman being asked by the media to judge between a woman and a man caught on top of her -- consenting to sex with a complete stranger behind a dumpster? With pine-cones jammed into her back? No way.
Sometimes Nice Catholic Girls (among others) labour under the misconception that girls who have sex before marriage are so robbed of dignity that they will do anything. This is not true and can lead to NCGs who "make a mistake" behaving incredibly stupidly in "might as well be hung for a sheep as for a lamb" style. When I was in university, my rather Bohemian non-Catholic friends did a lot of things I found shocking but they did have boundaries and a certain measure of dignity. I can imagine this boho pal or that in college deciding to have intimate knowledge of a 19 year old stranger after a party in the fresh air, if it was a nice night, but not behind a bloody dumpster. And not when out of her mind drunk.
The survivor mentions the dumpster several times, as if the idea of any woman consenting to sex behind one is simply beyond belief, and believes her readers will share her disbelief. As she responds to his self-serving second-guessing, "Even if you did know me, I would not want [to] be in this situation. My own boyfriend knows me, but if he asked to [...] behind a dumpster, I would slap him. No girl wants to be in this situation. Nobody." I would say, certainly not a woman who has any dignity, as this woman clearly does, as is made evident by her articulate victim impact statement.
What I am going to say now is not about the criminality of rape but purely about protecting yourself from it. Unfortunately, there are no guarantees. However, I have noticed that a big factor is alcohol. Another factor is party atmosphere, either at a home or in a club. Yet another is friends losing a friend or leaving her (or him--two Libyan soldiers were convicted of raping a young man in Cambridge, UK last year) alone. And it is worth repeating these things over and over again because sexual assault and rape can be absolutely devastating.
Sadly, telling young women how to protect themselves is sometimes considered a form of blaming the victim. Yes, boys and men need to be told not to rape, and boys and men are told not to rape. The problem is, there are men who will do it anyway. Even if their religion or culture says its okay sometimes (a serious problem in some communities in the UK), they know it's against the law in the USA, in the UK. Anyone not on Brock Turner's defense team would argue he knew he was doing wrong, or he wouldn't have run off--leaving the half-naked woman--when the witnesses appeared.
Unfortunately, some men see stories like this entirely from the assailant's point of view--although in this case, as the guy was caught in the act, I cannot see how a guy couldn't think, at best, "What an idiot"--and do not quite get how rape is a form of personality murder.
This is why such articulate victim impact statements are so important. The answer to "Would you, if you could get away with it" would be different if the question was changed to "Would you, if you could get away with it but you knew the woman would suffer serious emotional trauma/lose her job/become an insomniac/find her relationship to her family disrupted ?" I read of a South Asian man in the UK who said he and his pals would never rape a South Asian girl because her family might kill her afterwards. See, even a racist jerk can feel compassion if he understands the impact his choices might have on a woman.
1. Intend not to get drunk at parties or in clubs. If you do get drunk, go home with a trusted friend. Never walk home alone while drunk. If you get in a taxi cab without your friend, take out your phone and call (or pretend to call) someone so the cabbie can hear you telling them. "Hi. I'm on my way home. I'm in Cab Number Such-and-such." Some cabbies rape customers. Sad but true.
2. Never leave your glass unattended at a large party or at a club, and consider having it filled with water between pints of whatever.
3. Don't ever leave a drunk friend alone. While taking precautions for your own safety, take your drunk friend home. If your drunk friend doesn't want to go home but wants to sit down on the pavement and sleep or leave the club or party with a stranger, tell them you're calling emergency services. If that doesn't smarten them up (or make the stranger flee), call emergency services. Emergency services will not be angry with you. In some UK cities, there are special squads to deal with drunk friends collapsed on pavements.
4. Consider not going to the parties of strangers or to clubs. Do you really enjoy them? If not, why do you go? As a twenty-something, I felt quite liberated when I stopped going to the parties of friends-of-friends. Large parties are often frightfully boring, which is why so many people get drunk at them. Clubs are also often frightfully boring and the state of the women's loo by midnight is just...
UPDATE: Just read Brock Turner's dad's statement. (Perps' dads get to make statements?) Apparently he once had to hide his snacks from his son, or he would eat them. I'm sure a sense of entitlement and a lack of impulse control is not what Mr Turner was trying to get across, but it certainly jumps to mind. The "my son used to love rib-eye steak, but now he eats only enough to live" play for sympathy seems misguided. Here is the whole letter, representing "the other side of the story". Incidentally, insinuating that the victim is promiscuous is not just deluded, it is shabby.
UPDATE 2: Just read Brock Turner's gal pal's statement. Oh dear. I think Brock Turner's family and friends need to stop communicating with the outside world about Brock Turner.*** Nobody is interested in how sweet and gentle Brock Turner was before and after he decided to have his way with an incapacitated women. His personality is not on trial. No matter how much you like him or her, if your friend sexually assaults an incapacitated woman, he or she deserves a prison sentence.
UPDATE 3: American colleges, you have a problem. But I don't think it's the athletes. I think its the culture you have built around the athletes. I think you are failing in your duty of care.
***CORRECTION: Brock Turner's family and friends are NOT communicating with the outside world. All these revelations are being leaked to the press from statements made to the judge. Who is doing this? Are these documents supposed to be in the public domain?